NTSB Investigators Focus on Pilot Role in Crash

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New questions are being raised about the training of pilots for fast growing foreign airlines as federal crash investigators prepare to interview the pilots of Asiana Flight 214.

The South Korean Transport Ministry said the pilot was in “transition training” to become certified as a captain on the Boeing 777. Saturday was the first time he had tried to land a 777 at San Francisco International Airport.

“We really do need to understand who was the pilot in command, who was the pilot flying at the time, what kind of conversations were they having,” said Deborah Hersman, chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board.

So far, NTSB investigators have yet to fully question the Asiana crew of the jetliner that crashed Saturday at SFO, killing two people. The cockpit voice recorder of the flight shows the pilot and officers in the cockpit did not issue a distress signal or give any indication of problems.

44 Hours of Flight

While the Flight 214 pilot had logged almost 10,000 flight hours in other commercial aircraft, he was relatively new to this type of plane—having tallied just 44 flight hours over the course of nine flights.

Asiana said pilots must spend at least 60 hours at the controls of a 777 and complete 10 landings and takeoffs before they are recognized as a captain for the long-range plane.

In South Korea, speculation among reporters that the Asiana pilot was too inexperienced prompted a sharp rebuke from Asiana’s chief. “Such speculation [about inexperience] is intolerable and it’s contrary to the facts,” CEO Yoon Young-doo said. “It’s not a matter of speculation. You should not speculate.”

The South Korean Transport Ministry has asked for Asiana and other Korean carriers to double check the safety and reliability of their fleets. “We will do our utmost to find the cause of the accident and take additional steps to ensure flight safety,” said a ministry official said.

Asiana’s Growth Plans, Need for Pilots

Like so many other airlines in the Asia Pacific region, Asiana has been expanding its service, particularly in China.

With flights out of 21 cities in China, Asiana collected 16 percent of its 2012 revenue from the communist country. It is the third-largest foreign airline in China, with many of the passengers connecting in Seoul to other flights serving cities in Asia and in the United States.

The death of two Chinese teenagers during the plane crash could have a lingering impact on the South Korean carrier.

Shares of Asiana were under pressure in Korea, falling 6 percent Monday.

As Asian airlines expand and fly more international routes, the region is in need of new trained pilots. In fact, Boeing estimated the Asia Pacific region will need 185,600 new pilots over the next 18 years, more than the number for Europe and North America.

Following Saturday’s crash, Americans who fly on foreign carriers may be wondering if the pilots of those planes are fully trained. Hersman said the expectations are reasonable.

“We expect that all of the pilots that operate aircraft that transport the American public are qualified to do their job,” Hersman said.

More From CNBC.com
Captain of Crashed San Francisco Plane was ‘in Training’
Flight Delays Mount After Asiana Crash at SFO
Will Deadly Crash Impact Boeing?

—Follow Phil LeBeau on Twitter: @Lebeaucarnews.

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